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Archive for May, 2011

Tuesday was the 128th Anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge.  It is one of my favorite NYC sites–I wrote about my personal history with the bridge as part of the NEH Along the Shore workshop last summer.  In that workshop I also learned that Irish immigrants protested the opening celebration of the bridge, as the date coincided with Queen Victoria’s birthday

For your enjoyment–a television commercial for the 100th anniversary, with appearances by some great ’80s characters.

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This past weekend, the New York Public Library celebrated the centennial of the magnificent building which houses its research collection with a series of events.  The one I was the most excited about was the tour of the stacks.  As many of you know, the  42nd Street research library is a closed stacks  institution.  Users fill out a form and submit it, and 20 or so minutes later the book appears at desk in the middle of the reading room. The forms until very recently were sent downstairs, to the 7 floors of stacks below the reading room, by pneumatic tubes, but I believe, sadly, that system has at last been made obsolete.  Anyway, the whole process seems very mysterious and slightly magical to someone like me, who has has spent countless hours in the building.  Most people on the tour seemed to feel the same way, especially the woman who had tears in her eyes she was so excited about seeing the stacks.  Perhaps not surprisingly, once we got down to the stacks, I felt like I was in a Wes Anderson movie set, in a charming thicket of  old card catalog cases, shoots and conveyor belts, call slips and (of course) books.

There is also a wonderful exhibition of some of the library’s treasures.  Highlights for me were seeing Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, Jack Kerouac’s diary that served as the basis for On the Road and the first book published by Europeans in the Americas, from the 1500s.  The oddest item might have been Charles Dicken’s letter opener–the handle was the paw of his beloved cat Bob, who had passed away. The exhibition’s curator Thomas Mellis is making a series of videos about some of the artifacts.

Another highlight–models of the library’s famous lions (Patience and Fortitude), made of Legos.

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I’ve been meaning to see the exhibit “The Diary: Three Centuries  of Private Lives” at the Morgan Library since it opened in January, but I only managed to get there today, 2 days before it closed.  I’m glad I finally made it, as it is a fascinating window into the ways people have recorded their thoughts for themselves and for posterity.  Standouts for me were the joint diary kept by Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charlotte Brontë’s diary entry that spun into a dramatic fantasy world. If you can’t make it to the museum, there an extensive online exhibit and some great podcasts on the website.

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I love Harry Potter, although I fear I can’t keep up in conversations with the most ardent fans.  Nonetheless, I am excited about the next movie.  And I can’t wait to read this new book on Harry Potter and History, which was edited by Nancy Reagin, a professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Pace University.

From the publishers website:

“Harry Potter lives in a world that is both magical and historical. Hogwarts pupils ride an old-fashioned steam train to school, notes are taken on parchment with quill pens, and Muggle legends come to life in the form of werewolves, witches, and magical spells. This book is the first to explore the real history in which Harry’s world is rooted.

Did you know that bezoars and mandrakes were fashionable luxury items for centuries? Find out how Europeans first developed the potions, spells, and charms taught at Hogwarts, from Avada Kedavra to love charms. Learn how the European prosecution of witches led to the Statute of Secrecy, meet the real Nicholas Flamel, see how the Malfoys stack up against Muggle English aristocrats, and compare the history of the wizarding world to real-life history.

  • Gives you the historical backdrop to Harry Potter’s world
  • Covers topics ranging from how real British boarding schools compare to Hogwarts to how parchment, quills, and scrolls used in the wizarding world were made
  • Includes a timeline comparing the history of the wizarding world to Muggle “real” history

Filled with fascinating facts and background, Harry Potter and History is an essential companion for every Harry Potter fan.”

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I am late in posting this, but my presentation for the event at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation is on YouTube.  It’s a little blurry, but my voice, elfin as it is, comes through loud and clear.

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